June Stokes was diagnosed with stage IV ovarian cancer in April 2000. She was told she had 12-18 months to live. June has been cancer free for 11 years, and hopes her experience will offer comfort and peace to those who are beginning their journey with (or after) a diagnosis of cancer.
This is Part II of the July 12 post, "Breast cancer took my twin too soon."
Joan did not have an oncologist for follow-up where we lived in Alexandria, La, so she saw her surgeon. He advised her it would be best to go to MD Anderson.
On her first trip to the institution, all of her siblings came with her. It was terrifying for us to see other ill patients. She went from one huge waiting area to another. It was difficult for her because she saw patients who were young, middle aged and elderly all together waiting for their name to be called.
Her health care team started her on a new oral chemotherapy, and we came home with our hopes renewed. I thought she was going to be fine.
But in the ensuing year, the cancer was not in remission. She had a cough that would almost strangle her; I thought it was because of her lungs. More follow-ups showed the cancer was in the esophagus and was causing her great difficulty in swallowing.
We returned to MD Anderson, and the oncologists discussed using experimental drugs. Joan would have to return to MD Anderson after six or seven treatments so the oncologists could evaluate her for side effects.
The cancer was unrelenting. It spread to her pelvic bone.
As close as we were, we never discussed her dying or any plans after she was gone.
Her son, Jody, was 2 and would play with his sister's Barbie dolls and furniture. He would place the Barbie doll in the bed because that is how he saw his mother. He thought everyone had hair that you took off and set on the bathroom counter top.
It was fun to watch him. He gave Joan and our entire family so much joy.
The cancer spread
On Christmas Day 1974, while my children were opening all the gifts from Santa, the phone rang. Joan could barely speak and asked me if I could take her to the emergency room because she had a horrible headache.
While the radiology technologist was taking care of Joan, I waited. The radiologist came out and said, "She will not be with us in the spring. She has a tumor in her brain."
Joan was given medication for the pain and when I was driving, she said, "If I can live until Jody is 5, it will be OK." She made that comment as if she was just thinking out loud and not speaking directly to me.
The headaches continued and I began taking her every day for radiation to treat the brain tumor. The first day I drove up to the hospital parking area and we were talking, but when I stopped the car and ran around to open the door, she had a seizure.
I screamed for someone to help.
There was something about the motion in the car and when it stopped, she would have a seizure. This happened every day until all the radiation treatments were completed.
By this time, she and Jody were staying with our parents. Joan was more comfortable there and her husband could continue to work.
In the middle of February 1975 I drove over to my parents' home and when I walked in, I could hear Joan gasping for breath.
Mama wanted her to go the hospital but Joan refused.